Taft Price is a clinical professor in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Strategy at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. A co-director and lecturer in the Master of Business Creation program, a partnership between Lassonde Entrepreneurship Institute and the Eccles School, Price is an experienced entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of Oakley Networks, a security software company sold to Raytheon that generated more than $75 million of revenue, and the former president of TaskEasy, a dual-sided marketplace for exterior maintenance services.
He’s also experienced in academia, serving on the University of Utah Board of Trustees for six years and receiving two degrees: a BA in international relations from Brigham Young University and an MBA from New York University. In his current roles at the University of Utah, Price applies his real-world business experience to his lectures, motivating his students to work together to turn ideas into solutions.
What made you become an entrepreneurship faculty member?
Price: I didn’t know at first that I enjoyed being entrepreneurial. When I graduated from NYU, I went to work on Wall Street, and then moved back to Utah to grow a money management firm. I was managing this portfolio of stocks, and I realized I enjoyed the management of the company more than the actual work on the portfolio. I sold my interest in the company and started leaning into startups — that’s how Oakley got started, and things just snowballed from there: we sold the company, and I haven’t stopped working with startups.
When I was appointed by the governor to the Board of Trustees, I got to be more engaged with students. I found myself wanting to spend more time with them, and so when the opportunity to teach came around, I took it. I get to teach entrepreneurial finance and execution — basically, what I’ve done my entire career. I didn’t just find a textbook and start lecturing, I teach what I know students need to understand if they’re going to be successful in their careers not only in entrepreneurship, but in anything that deals with building projections and teams (which is pretty much everything), and it’s been terrific. I’ve enjoyed it way more than I expected to.
It’s often said that when it comes to entrepreneurship, practical experience is best. What’s the advantage of an academic background in entrepreneurship?
Price: I don’t have a degree in entrepreneurship. My undergraduate degree is in international relations, and my MBA had a finance focus, so that’s a good question. Even with that background, I still think entrepreneurship is a very important academic area to study because it encompasses the same disciplines: finance, marketing, sales, accounting etc., but it’s at a level that most people can appreciate easier. In the entrepreneurship classes, you learn fundamental business concepts, but in a way that people relate to better — it feels more real.
Of course, that’s a great place for me to plug the coolest, most innovative degree I’ve had the pleasure of working on — the Master of Business Creation. It doesn’t get more real than taking an early-stage business and to developing it over two successive semesters. It’s not a traditional classroom — you’re working on something real, not just theoretical, while learning all these foundational pillars of business and entrepreneurship.
What makes the University of Utah the right place to study entrepreneurship?
Price: Relative to the rest of the state, the University of Utah is much more diverse. I love that diversity within our student body — the different backgrounds, experiences, and belief systems. This makes the U an exceptional place to learn entrepreneurship, because it’s all about solving problems, and you can’t ever solve a difficult question with just one perspective.
On top of that, we also have a culture of valuing teamwork. Too often people think that it’s everyone for themselves, but I think our students really understand the benefit of surrounding themselves with quality teammates. At the U, we get that it takes other people’s help and the ability to work together effectively to be a successful entrepreneur at any scale.
Is there a mistake or misstep that many entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial students consistently make? If so, how can it be avoided?
Price: Ignoring the importance of teams, or picking the wrong people for a team, is a big part of it, but the biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make is starting a business without understanding the resources it’s going to take to validate their idea and create lasting value.
This testing process is what I teach in my entrepreneurial finance class, to help students build a set of projections, so that before they get started, they know the resources (both financial- and talent-wise) that it will take to achieve an increases value. Of course, on the way to any milestone, a company is going to face problems that no one could anticipate. Most of the time, the problems get worse when founders spend too much time trying to develop the perfect solution to the problem rather than just jumping in and starting to fix it as they go. A lot of times, even with all this projection and preparation, you learn how to fix issues by just being in the middle of fixing it and trusting the people you are working with to achieve something awesome.
What does it mean to be an entrepreneur?
Price: An entrepreneur is anybody who wants to take something that doesn’t exist and make it real — create it. Entrepreneurs can take an idea, something that’s just been sitting in someone’s head, and make it into a real product, a real service, a company that goes way beyond any one individual.
What do you want students to leave your classes or conversations with?
Price: I want every student to leave my class with multiple models, financial spreadsheets that they’ve built and can keep referring to. I want students to have projections for any company they could envision, so that in the future they can see what work they did in my class and be able to apply it to whatever the new situation is. I’m trying to instill long-term benefits into everything I teach, with practical skills and applicably at the forefront.
Some of my favorite lectures are on modeling dilution, or what happens to the ownership of an organization as more money enters an organization. These models show people that just because you raise money, that’s not good or bad — if you use that money intelligently, then the company’s worth more so your stake is more valuable, even though it’s a smaller percentage. Helping students understand connections between being very judicious and intelligent about the way they raise and spend capital is a fulfilling part of my teaching experience.
What do you want entrepreneurship students in general to know?
Price: You don’t have to become an entrepreneur the day you graduate. A lot of times, working in a corporation for a period of time is part of the preparation that people need to become successful entrepreneurs. You shouldn’t start a company until you are able to go a significant period of time earning less income than before you started the business.
What does success look like for entrepreneurs? Is it quantitative or what?
Price: I think if you really look at our society, the problems we’re facing across every aspect would be best solved by entrepreneurs coming up with innovation that allows us to deal with things different than we have in the past. With that in mind, I define success as getting to work on important problems with people you like, and ultimately finding a solution. Having a job where I get to identify problems that matter to me and work on them until I’ve found an answer? That is how I think about success.